Banners In The Mist:  newsletter banner illustration dags for tabs

Banners in the Mist:
a quarterly newsletter
delving deep into the past

Hi! I'm Joyce Holt, writer of historical fantasy.

Eventually I'll use this venue to offer sneak peaks of my forthcoming novels. For now, while my career is in the limbo-land of waiting to hear back from agents, I'll devote this quarterly newsletter to glimpses into the past, not necessarily related to my body of work.

World News

Dateline October 1, 1850 AD

reprinted October 1, 2016     - - -     Volume 3 Number 4

From Mangel Wurzel... punky

EUROPE: Somerset, England--

The fourth Thursday of October, according to tradition in Somerset, is the day to hollow out a mangel wurzel, that huge beet so valued for winter livestock feed. The cattle can spare a few beets in late autumn when townsfolk, both young and old, peel faces into the outer skins of their mangels, light a candle within, and hang from a cord the handy lantern called a punky.

Yellow Globe Mangel Wurzel

young man with two mangel wurzels

Come dark, these punkies light the way throughout the village of Somerset as youngsters sing the old punky song. "It's punky night, it's punky night!"

punky aglow

To left, a properly peeled punky. Only the surface skin is pared away, and the flesh glows pale.

To right, a mangled mangel wurzel. The design should not pierce through the flesh like this, clear to the hollow inside. Save that technique for our rustic kin across the pond and their large orange squashes!

poor punky

Folk in Ireland and Cornwall may scoff at the use of mangel wurzels for lanterns. They prefer to carve lamps from large turnips instead.

turnip lantern from Cornwall

ETYMOLOGY and fun with origins

Mangel comes from mangold, German for beet.
Wurzel is German for root.
Punky might have come from Anglo-Saxon pyngan, meaning "to prick," although other folk think it comes from spunky, a word from lowland Scotland for a will o' the wisp.

Punkies themselves may originally have been imitations of the flaming swamp gas known as will o' the wisp, corpse candles, or Ignis Fatuus (Latin for "foolish fire").

Other names for Will o' the Wisp from around the British Isles:

Lowland Scotland:
Hertfordshire and East Anglia:
Cornwall and Somerset:
East Anglia:
Somerset and Devon:
The West Country:
Warwickshire Gloucestershire:
North Yorkshire, Northumberland:
The Hobby Lantern
Peg-a- Lantern
Joan the Wad
The Lantern Man
Hinky Punk
Will the Smith
Jacky Lantern, Jack a Lantern
Pwca and the Ellylldan
Will o the Wikes
Hobbedy's Lantern
Jenny with the Lantern


A Colorful Local Twist
From turnip and beet... to pumpkin

NORTH AMERICA: Massachusetts--

Just in time for All Hallows Eve, Massachusetts' own beloved poet John Greenleaf Whittier has just published a poem titled "The Pumpkin."
Here is an excerpt for your October reading pleasure:

        Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,

        When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!

        When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,

        Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!


The English may call us rustic bumpkins,
But their beets are much harder to carve than pumpkins!
                                                        ~ anonymous

The Very

Mainstay of the kitchen

AFRICA: Chad--

There's no mystery behind the other common name for the calabash: the bottle gourd. The fruit of a fast-growing, tropical vine, when dried the bottle gourd provides containers of all shapes for use both indoors and out.

Here in Africa calabashes serve as household utensils, bowls and bottles; as storage containers for food, wine and water; as winnowing pans; as headgear; as stringed instruments, bugles, rattles and drums.

calabashes used to make mbira and rattle

xylophone with calabash elements

The natural color of a dried calabash is a warm yellow that darkens with age and use. Millet leaves rubbed on the shell will leave a rose color. Indigo will leave blue.

carved calabash from Chad

Many say the calabash has its origins here in Africa, and very distinguished origins, at that. The only cultivated plant longer in use than the calabash is rye.

Some African recipes include green calabash in stews with meat, poultry, and seafood.

Of Guards and Gourds
War and commerce on New Zealand's North Island

AUSTRALIA & SOUTH SEAS: Wellington, New Zealand--

The Phoebe Dunbar arrived in port at Wellington this morning after a three-month voyage from London. Many of the passengers are agricultural labourers recruited by the New Zealand Company to help build up the prosperity of the settlement.

The city of Wellington held an orientation for the workers, advising prudent actions to take when encountering the native Maori, and detailing the recent hostilities which still rage in the north. Agricultural labourers' duties will include taking shifts standing guard.

Maori of a more peaceful inclination often man booths at the markets here in Wellington, offering goods such as these lovely carved gourds.

On the left you see a gourd carved in the famous, local, Koru-style interlocking pattern.

Koru, the local word for "loop," is a spiral motif found everywhere in Maori art, carving and tattoos.

Koru mirrors the shape of the uncurling frond of a silver fern. The outer curl embodies the idea of unending movement, and the inner coil symbolizes a return to the beginning.
The newcomers also were warned about the frequent tremblors and devastating earthquakes that afflict the region. As an advisory for the workers and other recent arrivals, we reprint below a first-hand account of the horrendous quake that leveled our city barely two years ago.

The Phoebe Dunbar will leave with the tide tomorrow morning on its way to New Plymouth, further north up the coast of North Island.


First-hand account from the 15th of October, 1848,
by local correspondent Frederick William Hurst:

"The city of Wellington was nearly destroyed by earthquake. Most of the brick and stone houses and chapels were destroyed, and scarcely a chimney escaped being thrown to the ground, also some two or three persons killed, and one human actually died with fright.

"According to the traditions of the natives, this Island was entirely broken up by earthquakes about 100 years previous, in fact, soon after we landed [April 1840] we were almost shook out of our beds, and not a year elapsed without minor shocks were felt. Strange to say, they were nearly always felt after heavy rains, indeed at the time I am writing about there had been uncommonly heavy rains.

"The first shocks were felt about 20 minutes past 2 a.m. Monday. Being slightly sick with a headache, I was lying awake at the time, the wind was blowing a hurricane, and the rain pouring down. On a sudden the wind and rain ceased, a dreadful rumbling sound was heard, speedily followed by a heavy earthquake shock. At first the house reeled to and fro and then appeared to sink into the earth. I cannot describe my feelings on that occasion. Many people stated that every time they felt a shock, it caused them to feel sick, for my part, it made me feel like Pat did when he visited his lady love, my heart flew into my mouth.

"Next morning I accompanied my brother, Alexander, into town. When we arrived there, all was confusion. The people thought surely the world was come to an end or that the whole city was going to be swallowed up.

"The day was very dark and cloudy. Many people left the city and went to the mountains; the earth was not quiet till Tuesday morning, then the clouds cleared away and the sun shone brightly. I never saw a finer or more pleasant day; most people thought that the earthquakes had ceased and set to work rebuilding their chimneys that had been thrown down.

But about half past two p.m. there came a shock much heavier than the first. Alfred and I were in the bush at the time and I never shall forget the way the tall pines clashed one against another. Some were torn up by the roots, limbs and branches were falling in all directions, but we escaped unhurt and immediately returned home.

  rata tree of New Zealand;
  art of Frederick Wm Hurst
"The people assembled from one end of the settlement to the other to the meeting house, and the next day was set apart for fasting and prayer. All the vessels there, lying in port, were filled with frightened multitudes, and in fact one vessel started to go to Sydney, New South Wales, but got wrecked before they got out of the heads and barely escaped with their lives. The vessel was totally lost.

"Thursday morning about 5:30 o'clock, we experienced another shock, heavier than any previous, this brought everything to the ground that was not made of wood. The people flocked to the Chapels that were left standing. Many became what they called converted and joined the various churches, many put me in mind of the prophets of Baal, they would shout and roar as if their God was asleep or on a journey."

from the diary of Frederick William Hurst,
artist and accidental world traveler

sketches by correspondent Frederick William Hurst

In the midst of moving residence (a grueling endeavor),
I injured one hand,
leaving me without the time or dexterity
to produce a newsletter as wide-ranging as usual.

I hope by January 1,2017, to have Banners In The Mist
back up and running at full steam.

browse earlier issues

visit author's home page

read flash fiction at Wildwood Wandering: weekly blog

email:     jholt.banners(at)

Sign up for this quarterly newsletter
(offered through email marketing service provider MailChimp,
which has an easy unsubscribe option if you change your mind.)